Clyburn pledges not to recognize committee members who don't wear masks

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chairman of the select committee overseeing the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, is vowing to no longer recognize members of the panel who do not cover their faces after Republicans refused to wear masks during a recent hearing.

In a letter sent to the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseCheney clashes with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up MORE (R-La.), Clyburn emphasized that the Capitol physician issued new guidance requiring lawmakers to wear masks while participating in any House meetings "in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room." He said that Republicans' refusal to wear the facial coverings during a hearing Friday "undermined the safety of everyone" in the vicinity. 

"Going forward, as long as the Attending Physician’s requirement to wear masks is in place, I will not recognize any Member of this Subcommittee to participate in person in any Subcommittee meeting or hearing unless the Member is wearing a mask and strictly adheres to the Attending Physician’s guidance," he wrote. 

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Scalise told The Hill on Monday that GOP members of the committee would comply in response to Clyburn's letter.

"If that's the requirement, we're going to comply with the requirement. It's not a big deal," Scalise said while wearing a black face mask outside the House chamber. "I've told the chair that we'll comply."

The pledge from Clyburn comes as parts of the U.S. experience a resurgence in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The U.S. on Friday reported more than 40,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day for the first time in more than a month, with states such as Texas and Florida pausing reopening plans due to a consistent uptick in infections. 

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommends Americans wear face masks when in public settings, though the guidance has not been universally followed in the Capitol. 

During a committee hearing on Friday focused on the Government Accountability Office report's recommendations for improving the coronavirus response, Scalise, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanNadler: Barr dealings with Berman came 'awfully close to bribery' How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up MORE (R-Ohio) and Rep. Mark GreenMark GreenComer tapped to serve as top Republican on House Oversight Clyburn pledges not to recognize committee members who don't wear masks This week: Democrats set to move health care, infrastructure proposals with eye on November MORE (R-Tenn.) did not wear masks, prompting Clyburn to threaten to stop holding in-person sessions. 

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"If you wish to continue having these meetings in person, you're going to have to adhere to the attending physician or I will not have the meetings in person," Clyburn said.

Clyburn added in his letter to Scalise that the refusal to wear masks was "perplexing," considering Republicans have "asked repeatedly to hold in-person hearings" and that the Louisiana Republican assured him they "could be done safely." The committee had been holding hearings and briefings virtually up until Friday, which had sparked complaints from some Republicans. 

Clyburn noted that he informed every member of the committee that masks were mandatory before Friday's hearing. 

"Yet every single Republican Member of the Subcommittee refused to comply," he said, adding that Republicans who do not wish to wear masks in the future are welcome to participate remotely. 

"Masks save lives," Clyburn said. "As members of Congress, we have a responsibility to protect our colleagues, our staffs, our witnesses, the Capitol Police, and custodial and other frontline workers from potentially deadly exposure to the coronavirus."

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Scalise and Green argued during the hearing that masks were not necessary because lawmakers were safely distanced from each other. 

"We are 6 feet apart. We don't need a mask. When I came in today, I put my mask on because I walked past people," Green said, holding up his surgical mask. "Now that I'm in a seat, I don't need a mask."

Amid the recent surge in U.S. coronavirus cases, leading health officials have stressed the need for Americans to wear face masks and follow social distancing protocols. Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar said Sunday that the “window is closing” to stop the spread of the virus and urged individuals to "act responsibly."

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Justices rule Manhattan prosecutor, but not Congress, can have Trump tax records Supreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress Pelosi on Baltimore's Columbus statue: 'If the community doesn't want the statue, the statue shouldn't be there' MORE (D-Calif.) has said that a federal order requiring Americans wear masks in public is "long overdue." Earlier this month, she directed House committee leaders to enforce a mask requirement. Multiple House Republicans defied the mandate when the House Judiciary and Transportation and Infrastructure committees met on June 17.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderRepublicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report Sixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Randi Weingarten MORE (R-Tenn.)  said Sunday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE could "help" eliminate the political debate over facial coverings if he chose to wear a mask at least occasionally. Trump has continued to resist calls to wear a mask. 

"If wearing masks is important and all the health experts tell us that it is in containing the disease in 2020, it would help if from time to time the president would wear one to help us get rid of this political debate that says if you're for Trump, you don't wear a mask, if you're against Trump, you do," Alexander, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, told CNN’s “Inside Politics.”

—Updated at 6:13 p.m. Cristina Marcos contributed.